We’ve both seen our share of threats. The church Rev. Lines leads was recently vandalized, twice, just days apart. The signage that agrees all black lives do matter, and the symbolic doors that welcome the LBGTQ community, were desecrated. No one was hurt, but this congregation joins a growing list of churches, in addition to the synagogues, mosques, and temples, that have been violated, sometimes with deadly force.
Brian was part of the clergy witness in Charlottesville, VA, as a tiki torch-bearing gang of neo-Nazis and white supremacists chanted hate. He rushed into the crowd after Heather Heyer was killed, offering comfort and help for the wounded. He saw in Charlottesville a violent alt-Christianity that threatened to spread. And it did.
These past four years have clearly emboldened people to express hatred freely and without fear of reprisal and accountability. It has been so hurtful to hear colleagues and loved ones who claim Christian values professing support for the former president when everything that he stands for contradicts Jesus’ lessons of love and justice. Nearly 47 percent of the country voted for our government to be led by someone whose hateful actions and inflammatory rhetoric brought us to the very edge of insurrection and totalitarianism. Most of these voters identify as Christian. Faith leaders and followers who see no conflict between their Christian faith and Trumpism have now been exposed and Jesus’ words ring truer than ever, “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:36).
Sadly, most of these Christians believe in a white nationalist Jesus. He’s the one who cares more about outlawing abortion than freeing children in cages. He cares more about white people being able to live without rules than black and brown people being murdered by them. He cares about your beliefs about him and not how you actually live your life. He has been on full display over the past four years, culminating with the siege of the Capitol Building as people waved flags that read, “Jesus is my Savior. Trump is my President” and then beat Capitol Hill police with them. The white nationalist Jesus is a heresy to faith, to democracy, and to God’s very self and must be dismantled.
While healing is certainly necessary, simply going back to being “nice” to each other doesn’t solve any problems. Churches will be tempted to focus on reconciliation without truth-telling and change. Preachers will want to shift focus from complex social justice to simple dreaming about an afterlife or self-edification. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do.
We need to rediscover the Jesus of history. Before reconciliation, we need truth-telling and that means Christians need to renounce white nationalism by rejecting white nationalist Jesus. Jesus of history is Jesus of Nazareth, a poor, Middle Eastern, brown-skinned Jewish peasant living in a Roman-occupied land, who spent his entire life proclaiming words of hope to people who found themselves in the same situation as him. If this is the Jesus that we proclaim in our churches week after week, it is impossible to follow a white nationalist Jesus. There can be only one Jesus, and he was a person of color murdered in the streets simply for proclaiming God’s kingdom, where the poor are blessed, not forgotten.
He was also the one who spoke truth to power by naming hypocrisy and calling for accountability and justice. Like Jesus, Christians are obligated to call to account the false gods and conspirators in and around government who violate the public trust. Our faith communities need to help truth-tellers among us break through intimidation and fear, and break their silence when they witness government wrongdoing. (It’s helpful to know we are not alone — a new project called Bearing Witness offers resources created specifically for faith leaders and communities.)
On Inauguration Day, like most Americans who care about democracy, we were relieved to see America’s flirtation with totalitarianism defeated. Inauguration Day signaled the beginning of a new era. We breathed a deep sigh of relief. We have already seen some positive movement on climate change, racial justice, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and economic equality. It does feel like a new day in our country, and we have much for which to be grateful.
Yet walk into most churches, and you’ll still see a portrait of a fair-skinned Jesus prominently displayed. Listen to the sermon, and you’ll hear platitudes about being nice people and most of the focus will be on confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior to get into heaven. In short, most churches proclaim and worship their made-up Jesus instead of the real one. None of us can allow ourselves to believe that white nationalism has left the church or lessened its attempt to influence our government. White nationalist Jesus remains our cross to bear.